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How To Get The Most From A Job Interview

Updated on March 29, 2013
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Job Interviews - Pitfalls and Prizes

A job interview is a two-way conversation, and it can be much more than simply showcasing your skills to a prospective employer. You can improve your chances of success with just a little thought and preparation, and even if it ends in rejection there are still opportunities to make valuable contacts, receive feedback and refine your interview techniques and career goals.

Dress to Impress – Appropriately

Check out the dress code of the company and dress to their standards, but don't fall into the trap of overdressing. If a company is a young, swish advertising network that holds 'dress-down Fridays' every day of the week, think twice about wearing a three-piece suit or high heels and evening gown. The real 'meat' of an interview is to show that you can fit into the business – which means fifty percent qualifications and experience, and fifty percent people skills and presentation. It's good to stand out for the right reasons - but not like a sore thumb!

Expect the Unexpected – Interview Questions

Be prepared for the obvious job-specific questions and research the role beforehand, but be aware that some employers also ask 'stock' questions that seem to come out of the blue. Government and local government jobs often want to know that you understand the spirit and the letter of local equal opportunities laws, and the prospective employer of a doctor's receptionist might want to know that you are as adept at avoiding catching the 'flu from their patients as you are at filing records. Think about the specific job beforehand, and the common sense areas as well as your intricate knowledge of widget specifications and rewiring a data centre from scratch!

Interviewing the Interviewers

Treat the interview as a professional and civilised two-way conversation. It is perfectly acceptable to ask about long-term promotion prospects, training opportunities and other career-related matters, but you should save any questions about vacation allowance and other 'perks' until after you get the job.

Use the 'Job Contact' Information

If the job advertisement includes details of a contact for further information about the position, use it! A job specification will only give you the bare bones of the duties, so write out the things you really need to know about the job and prepare a couple of questions to find out some in-depth information. You might make a valuable contact in the process, and the more information you have before the interview, the more you will have a chance to shine.

Valid questions to ask are where essential information is missing from the advertisement or application pack - such as:

  • salary;
  • specific experience or qualifications necessary for the post;
  • where you have experiece of X and they want experience of Y, and you need to know if they will accept yours as equivalent;
  • if the job is a complex one, or the job description is vague, you may want to have a general chat to get clearer details, which is a valid and reasonable response.

Such details are worth checking before you spend a great deal of time and energy on the application or interview that could be better spent elsewhere if you are wholly unsuitable for the job, or if the job specifics are below your own minimum standards.

Re-read your Application or Resume

Interviewers will want to hear more about your previous jobs and how the skills you gained will benefit their business. So refresh your memory, revisit your application or CV, and consider how your experience fits in with the aims of the company and the duties of your prospective future role.

Avoid Unnecessary Stress!

On the day of the interview, your thoughts should be uncluttered by extra stress, so make sure that you have plenty of time. Fill your car with petrol, double-check train times, press your interview clothes, and collect any paperwork like certificates and references together on the night before the big day.

Be Calm - Be Confident

And if you can't rustle up the real deal, wing it a little. Everyone is nervous going into an interview, and if you can take a deep breath, smile politely, and answer the right questions in the right order, you'll be doing better than most of the candidates. If you also look professional, and can show some knowledge and interest in the job and the company, then you'll be ticking even more boxes.

Don't try to over-impress them with your knowledge and opinions - answer questions tactfully and succinctly, from a position of 'strongest knowledge, fewer words' - a wild guess will be obvious to them, and it would be better to pause and think for a moment rather than 'babble' in the hope that if you say enough you'll hit on the right answer eventually.

And If you don't get the Job…

Accept Rejection Gracefully

If the successful candidate doesn't work out, or another position opens up, an employer might just reconsider previous applicants – but they probably won't invite anyone who reacted with anger, tears or resentment the first time around. So if you don't quite make the grade, don't despair – continue to make a good impression throughout the process, and behave professionally and appropriately even if you are disappointed.

Take Feedback Seriously

Even if you suspect that the successful applicant was the HR manager's cousin or an internal candidate who was a shoo-in, try to drill down into why you were unsuccessful. If it was lack of experience, what kind of experience were they looking for? If your qualifications weren't up to scratch, ask them to recommend acceptable ones. Try to accept rejection calmly and get the most from other useful aspects of a job interview – that is, how to improve!

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